As mom would have made it” is a phrase I rarely associate with the food at Indian restaurants in hotels. But not when it comes to these three establishments. By digging deep into the culinary history and cooking traditions of the regions they represent, they’ve created menus that most moms and grandmoms would be proud to serve. And we to eat.
Welcome to food from the North West Frontier Province — from a time when India still had provinces and straddled a much larger part of Asia.
Besides the rustic ambience, the first thing that strikes you at Peshawari is the absence of cutlery. It isn’t that they forgot to put it on your table, it’s just that they want you to eat with your hands. And why not? The food tastes better that way.
Through their glass-fronted open kitchen, you can see Peshawari chefs chefs at work. The sikandarirRaan (whole leg of baby lamb) leads the parade of signature tandoori dishes. Tiger prawns, burra kabab (lamb), murgh malai and reshmi kababs (chicken)are other favorites. Rounding off the parade, the dal bukhara (black lentils stewed overnight in spices topped with a generous helping of clarified butter) sends vegans into rapture.
And here’s a little secret. Peshawari also has a few “off menu” dishes, available on request. Just ask what the cooks can do for you on any given day.
ITC Maratha, Sahar, Mumbai 400099, tel. +91 22 2830 3030, open noon-2:45 pm and 7:30-11.45 pm. Reservations recommended
Walk through the entrance portico of Konkan Cafe and you feel you’ve entered a Mangalorean home, albeit with a twist. The inner courtyard — replete with Mangalore tiles and gables, thick wooden columns, terracotta floors and walls lined with shiny brass cooking vessels — opens out into a faux tropical sky with twinkling stars.
The food is as heavenly. Cuisine here is from the western coast of India (the ‘Konkan’). Seafood is selected from displays, and each dish is stamped with an authenticity that would make old hands of the region proud.
Pomfret Recheado (pan-fried pomfret coated with a fiery red masala), Malabari chicken, Mangalorean fish curry and avial (mixed vegetables in a light coconut gravy) are signature dishes. The incredible traditional stews — chicken and vegetarian — are prepared in a light pepper-flavored coconut gravy.
A variety of Indian and regional breads are made in the open kitchen. Mop up the gravies with appams, soft melt-in-the-mouth rice-and-lentil pancakes. If you want, you can have egg appams, too. A meal in itself, these have a fried egg in the center.
By the end of the meal, you may find your mouth on fire. The perfect antidote awaits. Ask for a glass of refreshing solkadi (fresh coconut milk, kokum juice and spices) to revive yourself.
Taj President, 90 Cuffe Parade, Mumbai 400005, tel. +91 22 6665 0808, 12:30-3pm and 7:30-11:45pm. Reservations recommended
As the name suggests, Dakshin features food from the southern states of India. If you are unfamiliar with geography, get ready to try unforgettable flavors from the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka — quite different from the tandoori and mughlai food from the north.
Inside Dakshin, brass idols and flowers greet you. Carnatic music wafts in the air. Servers in traditional attire guide you to your table. You are enveloped in southern hospitality. Don’t fight it. It sets the tone for what is to follow.
Try the spicy kozhi melagu curry (chicken in a pepper gravy), it’s sure to get your taste buds dancing. Or the kola urandai kozhambu (lamb dumplings in gravy). Seafood lovers must not pass up on the meen varuval (pan-fried pomfret with southern spices).
Vegetarians can rejoice at Dakshin because the menu is packed with such classics as podalangai kootu (snake gourd with lentils), vathal kozhambu (pungent curry of onions, garlic paste and sun-dried gooseberries) and kadale gassi (black chick peas and potatoes).
Get the chef started on mini-dosas (savory rice and lentil pancakes) and he won’t stop until you’ve tried all 12 types, each with a different stuffing. If you are confused about what to order, go for the thali (plated meal) with a selection of the best that Dakshin has to offer.
As is the tradition in the south after a meal like this, you might want to catch a nap.
ITC Maratha,Sahar, Mumbai 400099, tel. +91 22 2830 3030, open 7:30-11:45 pm. Sunday brunch: 12:30-2:45pm. Reservations recommended